Once I saw post in a forum in which some chap asked whether he should buy old glass (actually he mentioned a few models like Pancolar, Super-Takumar, etc.) or stick to the zoom kit lens he got with his brand new DSLR. And you know, opinions are like asses: everybody’s got one; there were all kinds of answers, but one fella made me smile telling the guy that both all those classic lenses and newer ones were better at taking pictures than we are photographers. That is and isn’t true.
To be fair, lenses formulated in and after the 1980’s beat hands down older lenses at key aspects like flare, contrast and resolving power. Coating tech may not look so glamourous as optical design, but the revolution came from there.
It should be surprising that there is an ongoing, and sometimes enraged, debate in the Internet about this nowadays. If even the cheapest kit lenses nowadays can kick their counterparts’ asses any day of the week in everything measurable, why are we still buying and taking pictures with that old inferior glass?
Now you’re hoping I gonna say something like ‘it’s because they’re chrome and shiny and ladies know better than going with sissies that shoot plastic lenses’, but I can’t cause my partners in the business have threatened to sell their share if I keep speaking my mind enough times that I have had to go into some self-censorship here. I hate them.
Anyway, there’s more in life than chrome-and-shine in life. Nomen est omen: there’s always the importance of being Sonnar. Japanese marketing people aren’t much into the thing of naming lenses. It is much, MUCH, more unlikely to have your name chanted in icelandic sagas if it is USM 55-200 than if it’s Jena Pancolar. Hell, say it three times: the later rolls so much off your tongue that sounds almost wagnerian while the former is just a series of numbers. It’s Sigurd And The Dragon vs. 55-200mm. KICK ITS SORRY PLASTIC ASS, SIGURD. It may look silly but it’s true: imagine that you have have two samples of 50mm 2.8 Tessar for M42 mount, one of them labeled Tessar, and the other made one month later when its manufacturer lost the rights to the name and had to label their lenses with just a T. All the rest being equal, you will be able to sell the Tessar much faster and for more than the T. A name and a surname add so much mystique upon a lens that they allow a chunk of glass and metal to become a legend while random numbers and letters, which are today’s naming style, sounds just like your two grand premium zoom could as well be an electric kettle for all its maker cared.
The most arguable reasons to choose ‘classic’ lenses over newer ones are those related to the image ‘quality’. I mean, if you’re arguing over resolution, you can solve this by shooting a test chart and comparing lines resolved per inch. You can’t go wrong with this. As normally modern lenses do much better, old glass die-hards go with unmeasurables such as ‘bokeh quality’, ‘3d effect’ or even ‘Leica Glow’ to justify their choices, often putting themselves to shame when they are asked to tell pictures taken with their favorite lenses from ones that aren’t and failing miserably.
My point is that there are many reasons to shoot old glass but none are rational. I don’t mean that shooting old glass is stupid, just that it’s something that comes from your guts instead of your intellect. And boy, in this life there’s nothing better than doing what you like instead of what is better.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re one of the ass-stubborn. Do what you want cause a pirate is free: you are a pirate. LOL, Limewire. Buy Lenses. From me.